In August of 2018, I used Zwift’s free trial period to do my very first FTP test, which resulted in 178 watts, or 2 w/kg with my weight at the time. A few days ago – 20 months later and 16 kg lighter – I averaged 298 watts in the first 20 minutes of a Tempus Fugit time trial, which resulted in a new FTP of 283 watts, or 4 w/kg. This is the story of my improvement, and how Zwift has been a key part of it.
The Final Wakeup Call
Around two years ago, on an otherwise regular morning, I was stepping down from the scales after looking at the highest number I had ever obtained: 89.9 kg. At my height of 169 cm, my BMI of 31.5 put me in the obesity category. Although there had been plenty of alarm bells before, this was the final wakeup call that made me re-evaluate my sedentary lifestyle in which I paid very little attention to my dietary and exercising habits.
The first action I took was to add some walking to my daily routine. When going to work, I would get off the bus one or two stops before mine, to add a few blocks of movement. On weekends, I started riding my bike, no longer than 30 minutes at first, though I soon ventured to the 520 trail from Redmond to Seattle, which provides some short climbs that proved to be a good challenge for my weak legs (in other words, I was destroyed after some of them).
I began to discover the world of road cycling. I had seen the Tour de France on TV for years, but the fact that it existed was pretty much the extent of my cycling knowledge. I was also using a road bike for the first time, a very basic and cheap model that satisfied all of my needs. It moved. It shifted. The brakes worked.
In modern fashion, I turned to the Web to find some info on how to care for my bicycle, what trails were good in the area and what kind of bike exercise I should try in order to lose weight. From what I gathered, a power meter was the way to go for taking training to the next level, even if I had no hopes of reaching a high level. I invested in some Garmin Vector pedals and did my first few rides with power.
Rolling Forward with Zwift
The numbers told me little, however, as I had no idea of my FTP. In another investment, I got a basic fluid trainer, started a Zwift trial and did my first FTP test on August 3, 2018. With a result of 178 watts and a weight of 86.3 kg, I was just below the level of an untrained novice, with a power-to-weight ratio of 2.06 w/kg.
During the next few months, I combined outdoor rides with some of Zwift’s training sessions. My only goals were to have a good time and to improve my fitness, and I succeeded in both. I lost around 10 kg while steadily increasing my power to 200+ watts. I was approaching 3 w/kg.
Hitting a Pothole
Then life got in the way. I won’t make any excuses, but I had a tough month in which I was entirely focused on something else, and I stopped exercising. Anxiety-induced eating certainly didn’t help, and I quickly recovered almost all of the lost weight. By the middle of May 2019, I was back at 87 kg, though fortunately I hadn’t lost much of the strength my legs had gained.
Remembering the previous wakeup call, I had a stern conversation with myself in which I acknowledged the situation and decided that I wasn’t going to get close to my previous “record” again. I went back to the bottom of the hill and starting pushing the stone upwards again.
Knowing that the benefits of exercise are seen over the long term is one of the toughest things that go through your mind while you suffer through the climbs and the Zone 5 efforts. But I had made up my mind and I was adamant, so I pushed through. Perhaps a key motivator was the knowledge that I had done it before, both the weight loss and the fitness gain, so I would be able to do it again.
Badges and Incentives
Another motivator, mundane as it might be, was the many badges and incentives within Zwift itself. As I write this, I’ve done all but 3 routes: the Mega Pretzel, the Uber Pretzel, and the Tour of Fire and Ice. The latter I’ve skipped not because of its difficulty, but because I want to make it coincide with my 25th ascent to the Alpe du Zwift, so I can get that badge as well. As part of this journey, I’ve done the full prudential, 25 laps to the volcano, and an imperial century courtesy of the Vegan Cyclist.
As for other incentives, you have all the levels and unlocks and the Tron bike to look forward to. I’m one level shy of getting the aero helmet for a proper time trial setup, in which I shall tackle Tempus Fugit once again for a fresh attempt at a new FTP.
Weighing Down, Powering Up!
Badge after badge, my weight started to decrease. The daily differences can be discouraging at times, but the overall trend started to become apparent.
In the meantime, my power was building up again. I had an internal milestone every 10 watts, so I went from 220 to 230, then looking forward to 240, and so on. In my mind, the goal was to reach 70 kg with 280 W, which would give me 4 w/kg.
The power came first, during stage 7 of the 2020 Tour de Zwift. I averaged 294 W over 20 minutes, which gave me the next FTP milestone of 280 W. I was still 2 kg over my weight target, but as I had been losing 1 kg every two weeks for a while, it was only a matter of giving it another month.
Right on cue, on March 2nd I marked 69.9 kg, which made it the first time I’ve seen a sub-70 number in more than a decade of struggling with my weight. Four days later I would also improve my FTP by 3 watts, when I averaged 298 W on the first 20 minutes of a Tempus Fugit time trial:
As I’m now within the normal range of BMI for my height, I don’t expect to continue losing weight at the same pace as before, but I do expect to lose a few more kilograms. My next big milestone is 65 kg and 293 W of FTP, for 4.5 W/kg, and my target date is 3 months from now. Is it possible? I think so, and I’m already working to get there.
Now that I find myself at 4 w/kg for the first time, I should soon be racing with the A category on Zwift. It’s a scary prospect, but one that I’m sure will push me even closer to my limits.
See you all in Watopia, and keep riding on!
What About You?
Have you seen big fitness gains thanks in part to Zwift? Share your story below – or better yet, submit an article to [email protected] for publication here on Zwift Insider!